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Mary Malone has made her way into another world from the world of Ci’gazze. She meets the mulefa, strange people who have trunks like elephants, diamond-shaped bodies, and claws that they hook through wheel-shaped seedpods. The mulefa befriend Mary and take her to their town.
In Lyra’s world, Will and Balthamos are traveling together when Balthamos suddenly senses that Baruch has died. He panics, but Will convinces him to continue pretending to be Will’s daemon. As they travel toward the cave in which Lyra is being held captive, Will and Balthamos run into Iorek Byrnison and the armored bears, who are fighting with a town of humans. Will makes peace between the two sides and convinces Iorek, who is fascinated by Will’s knife, to allow Will to travel with the bears as they head for the Himalayas. Will tells Iorek that he is looking for Lyra and Iorek agrees to help Will in his search.
Mary learns to communicate with the mulefa. She consults the I Ching, a Chinese method of fortune telling akin to the alethiometer. It tells her to stay with the mulefa for a while. A flock of tualapi, vicious white birds similar to swans, attacks the mulefa village, destroying it and scattering the precious seedpods.
In Lyra’s world, Ama meets Will and Iorek and brings Will to Lyra. Will meets Mrs. Coulter for the first time. Mrs. Coulter explains that she is keeping Lyra asleep in the cave because she wants to protect Lyra from the forces of the Church. Will knows that Mrs. Coulter is lying and he leaves.
Aboard the zeppelin of the Consistorial Court, the two Gallivespian spies hatch their special dragonflies. Through a device called the lodestone resonator, they receive a message from their chief, who tells them to cooperate with Will in order to save Lyra. Will and Ama use the knife to enter the cave in which Mrs. Coulter is holding Lyra. They wake Lyra using medicine that Ama obtained. Before they can use the knife to cut through to another world, however, Mrs. Coulter looks at Will, and he thinks he is looking at his own mother’s face. His heart fills with sorrow and the knife lodges in the air and breaks into pieces.
The Gallivespian spies rescue Will and Lyra from Mrs. Coulter. Lord Asriel’s forces, commanded by King Ogunwe, meet the forces of the Consistorial Court and a great battle ensues. The Consistorial Court’s army retreats, and King Ogunwe captures Mrs. Coulter and brings her back to Lord Asriel. The spies insist that Lyra and Will bring the knife to Lord Asriel, but they refuse. They go to meet Iorek, who agrees to mend the knife. Will and Lyra decide they have to go to the world of the dead, because Lyra has to find Roger and Will has to find his father. In Lord Asriel’s fortress, Mrs. Coulter meets with Asriel and his allies. King Ogunwe explains to Mrs. Coulter that Asriel and his allies want to build a Republic of Heaven. Mrs. Coulter steals an airship called the Intention Craft from Lord Asriel and flies away. Lord Roke stows away with her.
Mary Malone has become very close to the mulefa, especially to one zalif (the word for a single mulefa) named Atal. Mary learns that the mulefa can see Dust, or Shadows, which they call sraf. Atal tells Mary that the mulefa have existed for 33,000 years, and that the Dust comes from the mulefa themselves and the oil from their seedpod wheels. According to mulefa lore, 30,000 years ago, a snake told a female zalif to put her claw through one of the seedpod wheels and coat it with oil. When the female zalif obeyed, she was able to see sraf. The female zalif had her mate, a male, put his claw through the hole in a seedpod, and at that moment consciousness came into existence for the mulefa. Mary decides to make a mirror with sap from the trees so she can see the sraf as well. The technique works, and Mary can see that sraf surrounds adults much more than it does children. Sraf looks like golden dust motes in sunshine. Atal takes Mary to speak to Sattamax, the wisest of all the mulefa.
Sattamax asks for Mary’s help. He says that 300 years ago, the seedpod trees started to sicken. Without the seedpods, the mulefa cannot produce more sraf, and without sraf, they will go back to being dumb beasts. Mary agrees to help.
Lyra, Will, Chevalier Tialys, and Lady Salmakia make for the world of the dead. They cut through to another world and follow a group of dead people until they find themselves in a strange, colorless town. The dead are allowed to cross a river, but Lyra’s group is not allowed to cross. They have to seek shelter in a shantytown filled with people who are accompanied by death instead of daemons. Death is a shadowy figure that accompanies each person through his or her life until it is time for that person to die. Then death takes the person away.
Back in the world of the mulefa, Mary builds a rope ladder to get to the top of the seedpod trees. The mulefa have turned Mary’s mirror into a kind of telescope, and with it, Mary can see thatsraf is not fertilizing all of the flowers. The mulefa build a platform in the tree canopy so Mary can learn more.
In the world of the dead, Lyra, Will and the Gallivespians approach the river that only the dead can cross. The man who rows the dead across in a boat tells Lyra that Pantalaimon can’t go across the river. As the boat pulls away, Lyra feels Pan being torn away from her heart. Will and the Gallivespian spies feel tearing in their own hearts as well. The boatman leaves them on the other side of the river, where harpies attack them. Will, Lyra, and the Gallivespians flee and find themselves in a valley, surrounded by whispering ghosts. They are in the land of the dead. The ghosts tell Will and Lyra that when living things die, they end up in this dull valley where nothing ever happens, and the harpies tell them every bad thing about themselves until they lose all hope.
Mrs. Coulter undergoes a transformation in these sections of the book, changing from a purely evil woman into a more complicated character. She is as manipulative as ever and she continues to hold Lyra hostage, but she seems to be softening. She cares for the sleeping Lyra in a loving way. Still, Mrs. Coulter does not abandon her double-crossing ways. She is hiding Lyra from the Church, the institution she is supposed to serve. She convinces Lord Asriel’s allies that she is trustworthy in order to learn what they are planning, and then she steals their Intention Craft and flies back to the Consistorial Court.
The mulefa narrate yet another variation on the story of Adam and Eve. For the mulefa, as for Lyra’s people, the first female’s fall is not the introduction of sin, but the beginning of all knowledge, all awareness, and everything good. In the mulefa version, Adam and Eve came to know themselves by coming into contact with the oil from the seedpod trees. And now, because of the oil from the seedpod trees, the mulefa are able to see what they call sraf, which is another word for what Lyra calls Dust and Mary calls Shadows. The mulefa know sraf for a thing of beauty. The mulefa do not have the equivalent of the Church. Instead, they have a religion based on an awareness of Dust. They worship the knowledge sraf brings them and live in a perfect harmony with everything around them. The mulefa tend the trees that give them their seedpods, and the trees, in turn, give the mulefa consciousness. Sraf fertilizes both the trees and the mulefa and gives them life. Sraf comes from above but is also made by the adult mulefa whenever they are exercising will rather than simply reacting or responding to their instincts. Whenever mulefa deliberately do something or build something (build houses, make art, create religious apparatuses, etc), sraf is created. The mulefa world is a one of innocence and abundance.
The boatman who refuses Lyra passage is very similar to the boatman Charon from Greek mythology, who ferries the dead across the River Styx into the underworld. Apart from a very few exceptions, the living are not allowed to cross the river. Greek mythology also contains harpies, who transport the dead to the underworld and torment them. Because they are without purpose or hope, the harpies try to destroy the hope of the miserable ghosts in the world of the dead. The Church divides the afterlife into two distinct divisions: Heaven and Hell. But Will and Lyra see that all those who die end up in the same bleak place, hopeless and abandoned.
Ace your assignments with our guide to His Dark Materials!